Report from the California Indian Think Tank
Taking our leave of one another is hard. We’ve tended old friendships, founded new relationship with other nations, given words a sovereign space, fed the future with dreams. Old songs and jokes and endearments rained on us in languages of home: over books, over coffee, over salmon. A clapperstick gave elderberry voice in the heart of the city. Testimony and story flowed in and out of time's basket. Good words, hard words, necessary words, tender words. Lists made and lists recorded, resources shared; sacred anger sometimes lit up the room, and laughter invited laughter to dance. We've shed a few tears, admired canons transformed into cannons, given and received blessings; irreverence, thy name is James! A long-legged spider came out to witness our warp and weft; observed intently, then, satisfied that we had potential, went back to her business in the next universe. Abalone and pine nut and acorn and clamshell beads created an Indigenous choir in the background. Ancestors emerged from our mouths, shifted inside of our cells, reminded us that survival takes innovation, risk, compassion, courage. Yes it does. Yes it does. We'll remember.
[for those who asked about the poem I read:]
Put me on a train, let me ride all the way from San Diego to Sacramento. Let me watch the lands I love unroll like a scroll, a story that keeps opening and opening, rich and full of sky, sand, oaks, hills, ocean, pines, snow. Let me drink in the old voices living there. Let the old knowledge seep back into me. Feast my eyes? I am a glutton! Unable to turn away, not wanting to sleep. Let the train rock me back and forth, jostle me over a rough spot in the track; let the steel wheels beneath the floor whine and sing.
Let the long slow grades ease us down from the mountains like a snake on a summer day, silver scales sparkling in the sun. Put me on a train; let the world shrink down to this one ragged coastline. Let this narrow corridor become the only world that matters.
Rumbling through Los Angeles, I’ll look for the dry cement banks of the river we have never forgotten, see homeless souls living in the mouths of drains that haven’t seen a drop of water in months. They know what they’re doing: blue tarps over the entrance, a battered lawn chair – would I manage as well? If I knew how to pray, I would pray for them, those people who never pray for rain.
San Juan Capistrano, San Fernando Rey de España, Santa Barbara. Let me pass by the adobe missions, the ridiculously renovated, the melting rubble, with tender thoughts for the souls of my ancestors. Like clay and stone, we transform: that is the string of miracles I follow.
Deborah A. Miranda (forthcoming in Raised By Humans, Tia Chucha Press April 2015)